How can a parent legally protect their partner’s child if they’re not married?

If they’re fortunate enough to live in a jurisdiction that allows second parent or co-parent adoption for unmarried couples, the best way to protect that relationship is to adopt the child. In some states, it is technically a second parent adoption where only the second parent adopts without the first parent giving up legal rights. In Massachusetts, it is a joint co-parent adoption, where both people petition to adopt. If you cannot adopt, there may be other ways to protect the relationship (through guardianship or some other type of custody proceeding). Consult with a knowledgeable attorney in your state to find out what you can to do protect these relationships. It is so important that LGBT people respect the relationships we establish with one another and with our children. GLAD has a good guide entitled “Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families.

Once they secure the adoption rights, is it necessary then to have the birth certificate updated? How important is that in terms of recognition of family?

In most states, after an adoption the birth certificate is amended to show both parties as the legal parents and that is a good thing to have that document to reflect the child’s reality. However, it’s also important to realize that the birth certificate alone is not a judgment of the court. Moreover, in at least one state – Texas – the Registry will not put a same-sex couple on a birth certificate even if there has been a legitimate co-parent adoption. Remember that the birth certificate is a record, not a judgment. As such, another state is not required to respect what it says on the birth certificate but should apply full faith and credit to an adoption decree/judgment. It’s essential to have a certified copy of the adoption decree/judgment. 

If an individual is traveling and there is an emergency, what is the recommended procedure so that they can stay with their child or advise on medical direction?

This is a situation that arises on a regular basis and again you cannot protect people from homophobia no matter what legal documents people have. If someone were to find themselves in an emergency situation where they are being prohibited from seeing a family member or making medical decisions, I would suggest contacting one of the national legal organizations: NCLR ( ) , GLAD ( ), Lambda Legal ( ). They can help you strategize and hopefully find a local attorney who can help you. Same-sex couples should always have their documents in order and carry them with you (scan onto a thumb drive): birth certificates, adoption decrees, wills, health care proxies, powers of attorney. 


Learn more about Joyce Kauffmann and other experts available to answer your questions on legal protections, forming a family, safe schools, LGBTQ parenting and more through our online  Ask the Experts forum. 



Terms of Use

Please remember that this blog series is designed for educational purposes only, and experts are not engaged through this platform in rendering medical, mental health, legal or other professional advice or services. If you have or suspect you may have a medical, mental health, legal or other problem that requires advice, consult your own caregiver, attorney or other qualified professional. Unfortunately, the experts cannot answer every question they receive or diagnose specific health conditions over the internet.

Experts appearing in this series are independent and are solely responsible for editing and fact-checking their material. None of the collaborating websites at which the experts are carried is the publisher or speaker of posted visitors’ questions or the experts’ material.